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What is Reflective Paint?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 17, 2024
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Reflective paint is a type of paint that contains thousands of little glass spheres, designed to reflect lots of light, even at night. It is most frequently used for signs on highways, but is also used on license plates, fishing lures, on mobile objects to be tracked (like a golf ball), or as an indicator on certain machinery. The size of glass beads ranges from application to application, but generally, the smaller the bead, the more expensive it is. The beads are sprayed on after paint is applied for the most even possible distribution. The beads are applied over a colored base coat designed to yield maximum reflectivity.

The typical glass beads used in reflective paint on highways are fairly inexpensive, and they are usually mixed with yellow latex paint. This paint is designed to be clearly visible when illuminated by headlights, but is often visible even without headlights due to ambient light. During the day, the paint is bright, but not bright enough to be excessively distracting or blinding. Reflective paint is very useful because materials that glow independently, without constantly needing to be "recharged," are expensive and radioactive.

One common use of this paint on the highway is on "Botts' dots," the little dots used to separate highway lanes from each other. The introduction of these reflective dots has resulted in a marked increase in highway safety.

Another variety is used on the reflective surfaces of light fixtures. This paint does not have embedded glass beads, but is designed to be as reflective as possible for a normal paint coating.

Other variants of reflective paint are designed to reflect away thermal as well as optical energy. These insulators are meant to be applied to the outside of buildings in hot locations to save on air conditioning bills. Some types reflect away 44% or more of the sunlight's energy.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated About Mechanics contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon937109 — On Mar 04, 2014

I need reflective paint that can be applied by spraying directly on a steel (metal) surface. Please help.

By DocnChaos — On Dec 21, 2013

What is license plate paint? Where can I get it? Also, where can I purchase clear reflective paint? Can I make my own?

By anon147604 — On Jan 29, 2011

Is there a reflective paint made out of edible material? grain of some sort? or a material that is not toxic if swallowed?

By Dante Huerta — On Nov 27, 2010

Thanks a lot for the info.

I need to make a sign on the back of a building for night reflection from car headlights.

Where can I find those "typical glass beads used in reflective paint" and would it work the same if I mix it with white latex paint?

I live in the San Diego area in California,

Thank you very much for the info. --Dante

By anon128677 — On Nov 20, 2010

what is license plate paint? Where can i get it?

By anon66762 — On Feb 21, 2010

My great great uncle Phlip Palmquist invented scotchlite and that started all the reflective stuff with the little glass spheres.

By anon62523 — On Jan 27, 2010

I need a paint that has to be reflexive at day light, does anybody knows any kind of paint like that? thanks.

By anon46110 — On Sep 22, 2009

i am looking for paint (reflective white color) to be painted on metal. What can you suggest?

By anon44141 — On Sep 05, 2009

how do i paint on glass beads size 2 millimeters to 8 millimeters?

By anon29470 — On Apr 02, 2009

How do you apply reflective paint: roller, spray ?

By anon27628 — On Mar 03, 2009

What would be the best reflective material to put on a vinyl fabric surface (same as a backpack)? Thanks for your input.

By anon7010 — On Jan 15, 2008

Can reflective paint be used to paint a wall for use as a video projection screen? A reflective paint with very small glass beads will be needed for this purpose. Who sells or manufactures such a paint?

By catb — On Jul 23, 2007

Can the glass beads be mixed in paint and coated over rubber, without changing or damaging the rubber?

By anon2423 — On Jul 10, 2007

how does one create a reflective paint mixture using latex paint and glass beads?

also, for this to be effective what is the best method to create a reflective surface provided that the surface is perpendicular to the ground?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated About Mechanics contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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